ERLANGER, Ky. — This year, officials at Remke's Markets have been expecting a big jump in sales of paczki, the super-rich Polish pastries traditionally consumed just prior to Lent.
The retailer has been counting on in-store product demonstrations and colorful boxes to boost sales of paczki — pronounced “poonch-key.” In previous years, Remke's has sold the oversized, donut-like pastries only from the in-store bakery's service case. This year, however, a table stacked high with red-and-white boxes of paczki helped pique customers' curiosity and gave sales a big lift, said Don Fine, bakery/deli buyer for the chain of eight stores.
“In January, we tried the boxes of half dozens at two stores, and we saw total count sales — from the table and the service counter — triple in those stores,” Fine told SN the week before Lent began. “So we decided to do that in all our stores, and I think we'll easily triple what we sold last year.”
On the second Saturday in February, Remke's also for the first time featured paczki in demos at each of its stores.
“Everybody got to taste the flavors we have — lemon, blueberry, strawberry and custard — but more important, I think, was educating people about what these are,” Fine said. “Our demo people told them the colorful history behind paczki, and we had signs up showing how to pronounce the word.”
According to legend, Polish housewives would attempt to use up all the eggs, butter and flour in the house before Lent began to avoid the temptation to bake and eat sweets during the season of fasting. That's how the rich pastry supposedly came about.
Officials were pleased with how customers responded to the story and the flavors, especially custard, Fine said. From now on, the retailer will make sampling events a regular part of paczki promotions.
“That's going to be the future for this category, getting the story out there,” Fine said. “People like that, and it gets our bakery managers enthusiastic, too. They see the potential in this product. These are incremental sales.”
Fine believes paczki are worthy of more attention all the way around. For instance, he said Remke's bakery managers were told this year to keep closer track of when — what days and what times — movement is best so they can maximize sales in the future.
“We want to know, for instance, when during the day we ran out of paczki, if we did, so we'll know how many more to order for what day next year.”
Remke's has paczki delivered fresh six days a week from Busken Bakery in Cincinnati, a locally renowned, multi-unit bakery that's been in business since 1928. Busken also supplies much of Remke's other ISB offerings.
For the self-service display, Fine chose the six-count white box with “paczki” emblazoned in red, even though 12-count and 18-count boxes are also available from Paper Products, Cincinnati. Fine said he felt the six-count packages would be most effective at triggering impulse purchases.
“A half-dozen is enough for a nice treat, but not too many,” he said, speculating that single people and those with small households would be more apt to grab a half-dozen than a larger box.
The half-dozen boxes retail for $4.99. At the service counter, customers can buy paczki for 95 cents each or $9.95 a dozen.
Unlike many retailers, Remke's starts selling paczki early in January. Other stores typically start offering paczki just days or, at the most, a couple of weeks before “Fat Tuesday,” the day before Lent begins.
“January is such a slow month for bakery, it's good to have something different to offer,” Fine said.
Even though Remke's market doesn't serve a large Polish population, the Polish pastries have been popular in the area for years, Fine said.